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Full text of "Recent Tennessee political history : interviews with Frank Ahlgren, March 31, 1969, [April 8, 1969 and May 13, 1969] / by Charles W. Crawford"

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RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY 

INTERVIEWS WITH FRANK AHLGREN 

MARCH 31, 1969 



BY CHARLES W. CRAWFORD 

ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE 

MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY 



• AHLGREN, FRANK R 



MS/IFHIS STATE UNIVERSITY 
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE 



I hereby release all right, title, or interest in and to 
all or any part of my tape-recorded memoirs to the Mississippi 
Valley Archives of the John V.'illard Brister Library of Memphis 
State University, subject to the following stipulations; 




( 



PLACE /()Q JP Jn^^ £~^ 





DATE 



a f ^ i t i±li 




(For the Mississippi Vall^ Afthives 
of the John V.'illard Brister Library 
of Memphis State University) 



(OHRO Form C) 



THIS IS MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT INTERVIEWING 
MR. FRANK AHLGREN, FORMER EDITOR OF THE MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL. 
THE DATE IS MARCH 31, 1969. THIS IS TAPE NUMBER ONE (l). 

DR. CRAWFORD: To begin with, let's get a little biographical information about 
you. It is very well-known to me, and it's a matter of record, now, but 
we anticipate that this will be used by people far in the future and we 
would like to have it all together. Can you begin by telling maybe some- 
thing of your family — where you were born? And maybe something about your 
early education. 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, I was born in Superior, Wisconsin on June 25, 1903. My father 
was Swedish, as the name indicates, and my mother was British. I attended 
what they call on the campus here the Training School. I don't know what 
the name of it is now. They call it the University? 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, they still call it the Training School. 

MR. AHLGREN: It is? Well, we had a Normal School — Superior— just as West 

Tennessee Normal. This was Superior Normal. We had a training school, and 
I attended that up through the eigth grade, and then I went to Central High 
and then to Lane Tech, in Chicago, and then back to Superior and graduated 
from Central High School there. I went to the University of Wisconsin for 
a brief time. My father was in politics, and fell out with the La Follette 
crowd. I went back to Superior and went to. . .1 think it was then the 
State College. It, of course, now is a university, just as Memphis State is 
a university. It is interesting how these things have paralleled. I also 
studied law here at the Memphis University Law School — that was the night 
Law School. I was the last chairman of the board. In fact, that desk that 



MR. AHDGREN: you have out there at the law school was our Moot Court desk in 
(con'td. ) 

the old Memphis University Law School. I also studied a little law in 

Houston. We had the Napoleonic Code there — a hangover from the old French- 
Spanish days. I have been interested in journalism education. I am at 
present President of the American Consul on Education for Journalism. This 
is my sixth term, and I am very proud. It's the longest tenure that they 
have had, and they are probably going to get rid of me this time. I don't 
know. Is there anything else? 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir. Can you tell me something about what you studied at 
different places and how you happened to be there. Was this full-time? 
Did it fit in with your work? When did you get interested in journalism? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, I went to Lane Tech in Chicago to study electrical engineering. 
In mathematics, newspaper men are historically poor. Of course, I didn't 
know that I was going to get interested in newspaper work. An English 
teacher suggested that I wrote better than I multiplied and subtracted. 
That interested me in journalism, and, of course, I became the high school 
correspondent to the local paper, and there it went. I also fired a switch 
engine on the railroad while I went to school for a while. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was that while you were at Lane Tech, sir? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, this was when I cane back. It was kind of a demanding schedule 
I had. I went to school from eight until two, and then worked on the rail- 
road from three until twelve. But I managed all right. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Sleep was no problem to you? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, you could sleep in class, just as they do now. I became 
interested in the newspaper. I was going to Superior State. I worked 
first for the Evening Telegram , and then for the Duluth Herald. I was 



MR. AHLGREN: fortunate enough to write a few stories for the Milwaukee Journal 
(con'td. ) 

as their correspondent. They offered me a full-time job, so I went from 

Superior to Milwaukee. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How old were you then, sir? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I was going on 23. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Had you considered journalism as a career before that time? 

MR. AHLGREN:= Well, when I was in high school the bug bit me. I was the high- 
school correspondent, and then was offered a full-time job. I went for it. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What part. . . . 

MR. AHLGREN: At $18 a week. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What parts of your education, or what courses, were most useful? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, obviously, English and creative writing, and economics, 

sociology, and what knowledge I could get from law. That's why I went to 
night law school, primarily, to get business law, and the laws of publication, 
and the history of journalism law and that sort of thing. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Have you felt that there were any other areas that you wished you 
had studied, such as you did law, later? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, especially. I wish I had more time to put in on creative 

writing. I wish that I had gone to journalism school. At no time did I go 
to journalism school. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Would you recommend that for beginners in journalism today? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, I would indeed, just as I would for anyone who would want a 
law career to enter a law school, but an interesting thing is developing. 
Many law schools now are recommending that the prospective law students 
take journalism. At Michigan, for example, they depend on the journalism 
courses to supply their freshman English. As you know, of course, the education 



MR. AHLGREN: in journalism is based on a 75% liberal arts, and 25% strictly 
(con'td. ) 

journalism in studies. That is not generally understood. People think that 

they learn how to print and how to handle a newspaper, and that's not true. 

The accreditation of a college of journalism is dedicated on the basis of 

students taking at least 75% liberal arts, and only 25% journalism subjects — 

subjects related to writing or publishing. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You feel, then, that your creative writing helped you a good deal? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, yes, unquestionably. Perhaps the best thing that happened 
to me, though, was my own disciplines in economics. I used to try to read 
everything that I could on economics that was considered acceptable writing 
on economics and whatever journalism books that were published by authentic 
or reputable publishing houses. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was this some part of a program of your own, Mr. Ahlgren? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Or did you simply enjoy it? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, it was a program of my own. I tried to read one book on 
economics a month. I tried to read any book that was written by someone 
who knew what he was writing about on journalism. Whenever I came across one 
in a publisher's catalogue or reading Editor and Publisher, or any other 
trade paper that indicated new journalism publications I tried to read it. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You've kept up with your profession, then, in the publications in 
economics, journalism? 

MR. AHLGREN: I am inclined to, yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you read in other fields? Did you read in literature, for 
example? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and I am very much interested in history. One of the things 



MR. AHLGREN: that bothers me about my three sons is that none of them is 
(con 1 td. ) 

interested in history. They regard it as a task, and I enjoyed it. Not 

exactly the dates, but the things that brought about history. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, if this encourages you any, I think that history is the sort 
of thing that one can pick up at any point in life and take a developing 
interest in it and start reading. 

MR. AHLGREN: In fact, I am looking forward to in my retirement, picking up 
Gibbons again. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What works influenced you most in your early years? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I was an only child and alone quite a bit. Therefore I 

had a great need. I read everything. Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. . • 
My tastes are rather unorthodox and run from the Rover Boys to Dickens. 
I could even wade through some of Shakespeare. We had some of the original 
volumes. Now, when I say original, I mean in the old sets that they printed 
around 1910, I would say. Some of it was pretty gamey, too, I will admit. 
They are pretty laborious, but I read everything that I came across. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You were fortunate to have those books at home. Or did you purchase 
your own? Did you have a library? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, my folks had a library. It was not an extensive one, but just 
standard things like a set of Shakespeare and of Dickens and Robert Louis 
Stevenson, as I mentioned, Tales of the Sea . We did not have The Five - 
Foot Shelf until I was able to buy one myself. 

DR. CRAWFORD: This is getting ahead of the course in which we are dealing with 

things now, but have you been able to find the time to continue that reading? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, I read. Occasionally I go over the best sellers in the 

New York Times and find out how many I have read. If I've only read a couple, 



MR. AHLGREN: I send down to the book store and get two or three that are on 
(con'td. ) 

that list. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that. . . 

MR. AHLGREN: I want to have read at least half of the books on the best-seller 
list. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that this is good for an editor to keep in contact 
with what people are reading? 

MR. AHLGREN: Indeed, indeed. I think that editors should keep in touch with 
these so-called Art Films. I did not. I used to see the ads and throw 
some of them out because of their lewdness, but I had never seen one of 
those things until "Tom Jones", if you could consider that. I don't. 
That's just a semi-nudie, as they call them. I saw one of them the other 
day, and I was absolutely shocked to see that they would permit these things 
to be displayed. I think that I would have been much more indignant had I 
taken time to go and see one or two of them. Of course, there is always 
the reluctance of having somebody say, "Well, I saw you at one of those lewd 
pictures the other day." But I ought to have been seeing more of that and 
writing editorials about it, because I regard them. ... What I saw, (and 
I have heard some others say this, too) that they work some subversive things 
into them such as little sermons favoring communism or some ideology 
attacking this country, or our way of thinking. It's that permissiveness 
again. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You feel, then, that a newspaperman should keep up with what 
people are seeing, thinking, and reading? 

MR. AHLGREN: I do, even if they accuse you of being a little too interested 
in things that aren't quite moral. That's your job. You should. 



DR. CRAWFORD: Well, this program of reading and training yourself as you went 
along. • • Did you plan that from the beginning, or did you develop this 
idea? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, no. I developed it as I went along, of course. I have an 
article here in a journalism. . • I'll give you a copy if I have one. 
I just happen to have the five or six that Professor Jaffee sent me. 
"The Journal as an Educator", published by the American Society of 
Journalism School Administrators. Now, they're members of the A.S.J.S.A. , 
and I guess that is why I was asked to write for it. But in my article there 
I tell how I became interested in newspaper work, and finally in journalism 
education. I'm not sure whether it started with reading Irvin S. Call's 
Stickfuls , which is a story about his career in journalism, which delighted 
me. I discovered that in our public library when I was fifteen. Or it 
might have been when I was a cub on the Milwaukee Journal when Grant Hyde, 
who was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin journalism school. He 
used to do a summer stint there, and I was very respectful and stood in some 
awe of him. That might have brought me into journalism, I don't know. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Had you already decided to go into journalism when you met these 
people? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes, sure. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you have any people who were models in their journalism 
careers that you followed? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes. I must mention the first one, Irvin Cobb. He was a delight- 
ful person. He could do anything, and do it swiftly and well. Oh, Harry Grant, 
of the Milwaukee Journal , a publisher there, and, of course, the greatest 
influence was John Sorrells, who was the executive editor of Scripps-Howard 
and also President of the Commercial Appeal when I became editor. He had a 



MR. AHLGREN: great influence on me. He was someone who had great executive 
(con'td. ) 

talents, but also could write like an angel. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you have any idea that you would ever go as far, administra- 
tively, as you did, Mr. Ahlgren? Was your interest mainly in writing? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, I think that the administrative appealed to me more after I 
got into it. I was on the copy desk, and I saw that that was where most 
of the executives. • .Well, they know how. • .They knew where the 
parts fit. They knew how to move things along, and they knew how to shape 
the writings of others when they were a little too accusive or, frankly, too 
long for the subject they are handling. The copy desk is the one that does 
this. It brings them down to size and sees that they get into form. That 
entrigued me. Once I was on the copy desk, that was what I wanted. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How broad was your experience before getting to the copy desk? 
Did you cover, as a reporter, many different things? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I was the Superior bureau man for the Duluth Herald , and I 
covered everything there from society to sports. The only chair I haven't 
sat in on a newspaper is markets. I never have been a markets editor, but 
I have been a sports editor, a city editor, a Sunday editor, a news editor, 
and a managing editor. You name it, and I've been it. Even I was in the 
society department for a while. 

DR. CRAWFORD: When you arrived in Milwaukee, you were about 23 or so? 

MR. AHLGREN: I was about 22jh yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How long were you there? 

MR. AHLGREN: For a year. I came here when I was 23. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What was your experience, now, in Milwaukee? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, there I worked on the copy desk. In those days we had a six- 
day week, and then you worked Saturday night, too. But one week I would be 



MR. AHLGREN: on the desk, and thenext I would be out on the field writing 
(con'td. ) 

feature stories. I was kind of a roving reporter then. The local corres- 
pondent would line up some tips for news stories and I would go in for 
interviews. At that time we had to hire a photographer to take pictures. 
That was before it was so mobile. Now everybody has a camera and machines 
that will transmit pictures over your telephone wires. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you develop any ideas or pictures of your own? 

MR. AHLGREN: Why, sure. Just because the correspondant had something lined up 
didn't mean that we all weren't going to look for something unusual — talking 
to people in hotels, the public places, call on the mayor. You always met the 
mayor and the big dignitaries around there. The Milwaukee Journal , of course, 
is a big paper in Wisconsin, and a representative of the Journal got entre 
almost anywhere. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How did you judge what would make a good feature? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, the best test is, "Have you ever heard anything like this 
before?" 

DR. CRAWFORD: In a general sort of way, sir, I was in college journalism, as a 
student. Since that time I have just been a reader, I think. Did you sort 
of have a feeling for what would interest people? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, you get on in the business, and you read what others have 

done. You read ole out-of-town newspapers. The New York World was a great 
source of inspiration for me. I began adapting their local situations to 
situations here in Memphis. I did that quite frequently when I was directing 
the city desk, or even when I was a reporter here briefly. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you believe that there was a decline of the feature story in 
the last few decades? 



10 



MR. AHLGREN: Oh, no. I think that it has improved considerably, because it is 
better documented. The people handling them are much better qualified. 
They have the education, and they have indoctrination in writing that we 
didn't have. They also have an understanding of what shakes the world 
occasionally. That is the academic world and the political world. Conse- 
quently, when they go in to do a feature story, they can put it up against 
a number of standards, if you want to call them that. Maybe that isn't 
coherent, but I think you know what I mean. They can think the significant 
matters of those things, as long as bringing up the pointers to the situation, 
They can work it around. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, and they certainly are better-trained now. 

MR. AHLGREN: They think better than we did. I mean, not you, but me. You are 
a much younger man. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, I wondered, really, about that. I didn't know much about it, 
but it seemed to me that the great age of feature writing might have declined 
simply because we get so much well-documented news now. 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, if you're talking about whimsey, you're right. There isn't 
enough room, and people don't have enough time to indulge in it. On the 
other hand, if you will notice our Sunday magazine is extremely popular. 
But there, again, it's not entirely feature stories. It's how to do things. 
Well, features, as such, are not just coincidental tales, lots of them. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How did you like the work in Milwaukee? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I had stepped right from the sticks into the big league, 
and I was bewildered by it. I'm sure it didn't slow me dowiany, because 
one of my friends who had worked with me on the Duluth Herald became city 
editor here. He wrote and said, "Come to Memphis. I'm going to be managing 
editor, and if you show the enterprise that you did in Duluth, Minnesota, you 



11 



MR. AHLGREN: can be city editor." Well, here I was, 23 years old, and city 
(con'td. ) 

editor sounded pretty good. It didn't quite work out that way, but at 25 

I was evening manager editor of the Evening Appeal . 

DR. CRAWFORD: What else did you have time to do in Milwaukee? You must have 
been quite busy in the league tnere. 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, yes, because I was working six days a week, and then Saturday 
night. Well, it was a shorter work day on Saturday, and we put out the 
Sunday paper on Saturday night. I was pretty busy every day except Sunday. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did the hard work and the long hours not discourage you? 

MR. AHLGREN: No. I had a young lady going to school in Chicago, north of 
Milwaukee. She would meet me in Racine. She would get a transit from 
Chicago, and I would get it from Milwaukee. After I had done my stint at 
the Saturday night paper, I would catch an 11 o'clock transit and meet her 
in Racine, She stayed with some friends there. I would think nothing of 
racing down to that depot, as we called it in those days, and riding to 
Racine. Then we would probably stay up all night, laughing and talking, 
and even going to church on Sunday. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You did have time to live, then, the sort of life that you wanted? 

MR. AHLGREN: Sure. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Were you sorry to leave Milwaukee? Did you regret leaving that 
part of the country? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, not when I left. I left at a very bad time to arrive here. 

I got here in late August in a light wool suit, which is perfectly satisfactory 
for Milwaukee's cool breezes in late August, but it was murder here. I 
stepped off the Illinois Central train right into an oven on a hot, August 
day. I really suffered. It took me a while to adjust to the heat here, as 



12 



MR. AHLGREN: compared to Milwaukee. 
(con'td. ) 

DR. CRAWFORD: What were your first impressions of Memphis? 

MR. AHLGREN:= They were pretty bad, because. . . 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was that compared with Milwaukee? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. Aside from the Courthouse here, and the Peabody Hotel, 
and maybe the Claridge, downtown Memphis didn'x look too good in those 
days. This was in 1926, but it certainly has changed now. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Things were comparatively prosperous then, weren't they? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, cotton and lumber were both doing very well. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What was the greatest change that you noticed from Milwaukee in 
Memphis? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, obviously, the heat, and then. . .On the positive side 

here, though, the people are much more friendly. The first week I wa s here 
they assigned me to. • .At any rate, I was over in the courthouse, and 
somebody introduced me to. . . Oh, for heaven sakes, I wish I had known 
you were going to ask me this. But at any rate, he was an assistant county 
court clerk, and he was a vestryman at Grace Church. Joy, Mel Joy. He was 
a vestryman at Grace Episcopal Church, and he found out that I was an Episco- 
palian and invited me to go to church with him. Then he found out that I 
sang in the choir at the cathedral in Milwaukee. I was just one of them, not 
a soloist or anything, but I was in the choir. 

PAUSE IN THE TAPE 

MR. AHLGREN: ... .too long, because about a month after I got here they 

sold the newspaper that I had joined. I was told that they were going to 
start a new one, the Evening Appeal . I tried to get a job back in Milwaukee. 



13 



MR. AHLGREN: I was very down-hearted. They were all loaded up. 
(con'td. ) 

DR. CRAWFORD: What was the change? Was the Commercial Appeal owned from 
Nashville at that time? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, the line-up was this. Paul Block and M. F. Hanson, (not the 
Hansons from Birmingham, this is the Hanson from Philadelphia) owned the 
Duluth Herald , for which I worked. I went to the Milwaukee Journal , and the 
courts reporter for the Herald came here, because Paul Block owned the old 
News Scimitar . Then Scripps-Howard owned the Press . The Scripps-Howard 
Press bought the News Scimitar from Paul Block. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Were both operating the same building at that time? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, the Press was over here on Jefferson, and the News Scimitar 
was where the Greyhound Bus Depot is now. That was torn down when the 
Press - Scimitar came out to the Commercial Appeal building. So, I had 
worked against Hearst in Milwaukee. I was afraid of the Scripps-Howard 
chain. There were some overtures made, and I said, "No, I'm going to 
go back to Milwaukee." But I found to my dismay that they had some trouble. 
The Sentinel there was killing its afternoon paper, and there was some 
uncertainty. So I did not get a job there, and then I heard that there was 
to be a new paper started and I got lined up with the Evening Appeal here. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How long did you wait between the two? 

MR. AHLGREN: A month. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What did you do in that time? 

MR. AHLGREN: I worked for Tom Briggs. His successors still put out special 

editions. They are putting outa special section for the Commercial Appeal. 
I wrote feature stories about Overton Park, which I knew. (laughter) Oh, 
I would interview people in some of those sections where they. • . 



14 



MR. AHLGREN: The Briggs people would work up the advertising, and then they 
(con'td. ) 

would send somebody along to interview the people and give them sort of a 

talk. When you asked what the motivating forces were. • .When I joined 

the Evening Appeal , after the News Scimitar had sold to the Press and 

became the Press - Scimitar , they put me on the Tri-State desk. I had been 

on the State desk on the Milwauke e Journal , so I could apply a lot of the 

techniques that I had learned in Milwaukee. That attracted the attention 

of George Morris, who was then the Managing Editor of the Evening Appeal . 

He had started me. He was the one who had hired me. He was one of the 

people who had considerable influence on my career. George certainly did. 

He had an understanding that very few men had, especially for a youngster 

like this young yankee, full of brass. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How long were you associated with him, Mr. Ahlgren, and how long 
had he been here? 

MR. AHLGREN: He'd been here. . .he'd been the editor of the old News Scimitar . 
I was associated with him from 1926. He left in '30, I believe. Yes, 
about '29 or '30. He left about '30, and then he came back in '32. Then, 
when I came back in '36, he went to Washington as our bureau man. So, from 
'26, until he died in about '56. . • No, he died about '44. Yes, we were 
close friends. At any rate, he gave me the opportunity as Tri-States 
editor, and I showed enthusiasm for the handling of things. Then he made 
me News editor, and then when the managing editor quit he put me in as 
temporary managing editor and then as managing editor. 

DR. CRAWFORD: When did you become temporary managing editor? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, in about July of 1928, and then he put it on the bulletin 
board that I was the managing editor. You see, the managing editor walked 



15 



MR. AHLGREN: out. He had a dispute with Mr. M rris. Someone had to run the 
(con'td. ) 

show, so we had a meeting in there, and he had me made managing editor. I 

served until about the first of the year. That's when Luke Lee took over 

the newspapers. He took over in about '27. That's right. But Luke Lee was 

then the owner. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was his home in Nashville? 

MR. AHLGREN: Nashville, that's right. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did he ever spend time in Memphis? 

MR. AHLGREN: Not ever more than a week at a time. No, he would come in for a 
couple of days, maybe, but he had a direct line to Nashville and he would 
dictate pretty well what the policy should be in the manner of Hearst. It 
was quite in contrast to the way Scripps-Howard operates. Scripps-Howard 
just puts you in there and lets you run the show. If you didn't run it 
successfully, then they got a new boy. But they would never try to tell you 
what to do. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I have noticed the different acceptable patterns in Scripps-Howard 
papers in different cities. 

MR. AHLGREN: They kind of cut the cloth to fit the community. I don't mean by 
that that they compromise the truth or any of these things. But there are 
some communities like the South that does things a certain way. Well, as an 
example, the only thing that they ever told me to do was to run it in the 
example of the Commercial Appeal , and the Commercial Appeal was an institution, 
not just a newspaper, and dated back to 1840. It has a lot of peculiarities 
that the people like, so we tried to do nothing to destroy that flavor. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was there any particular change under Luke Lee's ownership? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes. Things were politically oriented. He was a politician. 



16 



MR. AHLGREN: He was not a newspaperman. Finally, when we ran into receiverships, 

(con'td. ) 
th then Jim Hammond, who also was not a newspaperman, but had gotten into it 

through the back door of radio and worked for Hearst and was publisher of the 

Detroit Times and had come from Luke Village, Arkansas, knew the Commercial 

Appeal . So when it was up on the block far its debts (it owed about two 

million in bonds and paper bills), he went to the Roy Howard Foundation. In 

those days wealthy men had their own foundations in their business, incorporated, 

so they limited their liabilities. The Roy Howard Trust, rather, backed 

Jim Hammond. $32,000 in cash was all he put up. But he assumed the 

$2,400,000 obligation. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That was in the early 1930's, wasn't it? 

MR. AHLGREN: That was in 1933. I remember it very well. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did the operation of the paper continue steadily through that time? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes. Jim in the summer of f 33, made a deal that he would 

discontinue the Evening Appeal , of which I was the managing editor. He would 
discontinue that, and the Press - Scimitar , which had decided to put out a 
Sunday paper, decided not to. They both raised their prices. They had to. 
It had been economic suicide. You were getting 13 editions for fifteen cents. 
You were getting the six-day Commercial and the Sunday, and the six-day 
Evening Appeal for fifteen cents. The Press - Scimitar was selling for ten 
cents a week. You couldn't even recover the price of the paper for that. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I believe that I remember from reading your paper in the early 
'30's, that advertising revenues were considerably down then. 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, sure. Everything was down. We had the stock market crash in 
'29. By 1930 people were pulling out their ads, and we didn't have anybody 
to sell them to. Nobody had any money. 



17 



DR. CRAWFORD: There are more questions that I would like to ask, Mr. Ahlgren, 

but I believe that the time you set is up now. 
MR. AHLGREN: Well, when do you want to come back? 



THIS IS MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE 
PROJECT INTERVIEWING MR. FRANK AHLGREN, RETIRED EDITOR OF THE 
MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL . THE INTERVIEWER IS DR. CHARLES CRAWFORD. 
THE DATE IS APRIL 8, 1969. THE PLACE IS MR. AHLGREN' S OFFICE IN 
THE 100 NORTH MAIN BUILDING, MD4PHIS, TENNESSEE. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Ahlgren, last time we discussed developments in Memphis 
in your career, we discussed developments mainly through the 1930' s. 
We are reaching approximately the point at which Chief Joe Boyle 
cleaned up Memphis. Could we begin there this time 1 ? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, I think that perhaps the on-coming war was changing 
Memphis. It was changing the economy considerably. We had a big 
shell-loading plant out at Woodstock, near Millington, Tennessee. 
Then, of course, the Navy started building an installation there for 
the expanding Navy forces. Firestone had established a plant here about 
1935, I believe. There were a series of difficulties when C. I. 0. tried 
to organize the plant. Mr. Crump vigorously opposed the organization. 
Some of his people (the police) tried to escort some of the organizers 
out of town. These tactics proved fruitless, however, as we all know. 
In due time we had organized labor on two fronts. Now, this doesn't 
necessarily mean that Mr. Crump was against organized labor. He was 
an A. ¥ m L. (American Federation of Labor) supporter, and, of course, 
these people trying to organize Firestone were C. I. 0. 

DR. CRAWFOHTfc He had A. F. of L. support in his organization, did henot? 



MR. AHLGREN: Yes. He always managed to have a labor man in his city commission 
or in the various quasi-public commissions. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did Memphis seem to be a favorable place for organized labor in 
the 1930' s? 

MR. AHLGREN: Not in the sense of un-skilled labor. The crafts enjoyed 

(well, not exactly the sponsorship), but they at least found cooperation 
in the Crump organization. Many of its leaders became Crump's men. 
For instance, Judge Sam Campbell was the executive business agent for 
the Motion Picture Projectors Union. He studied law nights, and became 
a criminal courts judge. Robert Tillman was a printer out of our place. 
He studied law, and they later made him a general sessions judge. With 
that kind of fraternal interest in the union they scratched each others' 
backs. The C. I. 0. was a different bag from Crump's point. He didn't 
like John L. Lewis's tactics, and they were so much like his own. (laughter) 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did he actually fear communist influence in the C. I. 0. ? 

MR. AHLGREN: Why, yes, and with good reason. So did we. We were probably 
instrumental in alarming him about it. We found it in the newspaper 
guild. There was a Memphis newspaperman, Harry Martin, who was in the 
thick of the fight against communism, finally had the communist officers 
thrown out, including a self-confessed, card-carrying communist, out of 
the old heirarchy. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That was considerably later that the communists were forced 
out, wasn't it, Mr. Ahlgren? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, it was around 1940 or '41. Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was there a case of a C. I. 0. convention which was held, or 
nearly held in Memphis, that Mr. Crump opposed? Some sort of planned 
meeting? 



MR. AHLGREN: Yes, the guilds, the national guilds. Mr. Crump, in his 

inagural speech as mayor, from the back of an Illinois Central train, 
thanked his supporters. He saw some of the newsmen in the crowd, and 
he said, "You can tell your C.I.O. people that they aren't invited to 
Memphis, even if they are going to have their convention here. They're 
not wanted." Words to that affect. 

DR. CRAWFORD: At what point did he change his view towards the C.I.O.? 

MR. AHLGREN: I'm not sure he ever changed it. 

DR. CRAWFORD: After they were established in Memphis, did he work with them? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, yes. Of course, they were in the A.F.L., too. He didn't 
vigorously oppose them, no. I don't know that he ever really accepted 
them. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What sort of change did World War II bring to the labor 
situation in Memphis? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, we were fresh out of folks. Everybody that was able- 
bodied, was, of course, working. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Were the Unions able to control this new group of workers? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes. They were issuing work permits, and it was a scandal. 
Well, they were building arsenals up here in West Tennessee, and this 
union and that union would sell work permits to unskilled people. I 
don't know how they muddled through, but it was a scandalous thing. 
Harry Truman made his reputation by heading the Senate war investigating 
committee. He came here and wrote a report on the bungling that was 
going on and how the contractors were on a cost-plus basis. They didn't 
care what the union should be doing as long as the hodies were showing 
up and the payrolls were moving. So, Truman made his first impression 



MR. AHLGREN: on the country with the way he. . .with the forthright manner in 
(con'td. ) 

which he went after these war contractors. Memphis was the scene of 

several inquiries. We had developments all around us that were adding 

to the economy. It was diversified. I'll say this for Mr. Crump and 

Mr. Hale. They were very careful to try to get a varied industrial 

complex. They weren't dependant on any one thing, which easily could 

have been if we had concentrated on just Firestone. Of course, DuPont 

later took over the shell-loading plant near Millington. They were really 

the agents for the British government and the establishment. But DuPont 

put in a chemical factory and chemical laboratories. Then we got W. R. Grace 

in. Of course, that's chemical. Then Kimberly Clark came in with wood 

pulp processing. It was so that if any one factory got shut down for 

economic or labor reasons, we wouldn't have too big of an impact on the 

community. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What did Mr. Crump and Hale do to encourage this boom of industry? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, they would cut out little pockets on the outskirts of the 
city and make them tax-free and that sort of thing. City taxes, at 
least, or county taxes, as the case may be. The assurance of quiet and 
tranquility was quite an item in those days. They weren't always able to 
deliver that, because we had some long Firestone strikes, for instance. 
Then International Harvester came in here, and we had some long International 
Harvester strikes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Labor relations were comparatively calm in Memphis, though, 
weren't they? 

MR. AHLGREN: Better than most communities. He (Mr. Crump) wouldn't let the 
agitators who were in just for the ride and for what harm they could 



MR. AHLGREN: do get in. He got pretty close to them and made life miserable 
(con f td. ) 

for them. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Then he considered the C.I.O. more dangerous than the A. F. of L.? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you feel that this was the period of Memphis 1 greatest 
economic growth? Did it slow down in the 50*s, then, and the 60 v s? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, of course, it was a growth predicated on the war effort. 
It mushroomed to the point where there were prices like any other 
community. The prices were out of control and they had to slap on 
National Price Control and rationing and that sort of thing. There is 
another side to it. Mr. Crump and Mr. Hale wanted to be on the pay-as- 
you-go basis. During the war they couldn't do much about it. But after 
the war, instead of catching up on our streets that needed repair, in- 
adequate sewage facilities, Mr. Crump, I think, rightfully, kept the 
state's feet to the fire, because Memphis was paying more than a fifth, 
and closer to a fourth, of the state's taxes and we were not getting 
money back. He would delay building streets or repairing streets until 
he could get the state committed and in on it, and the Federal Government. 
As a consequence, we lagged behind the other communities on freeways and 
that sort of thing. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Now, this was in the post-war period? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. When Chandler finally took over as Mayor, the economy 

of patch and mend prevailed whereas it should have been bringing bigger 
and better things, and getting the tax rate up. Mr. Crump was holding 
the tax line. Why, sure, you can go out to eat, too, and hold down 
expenses, but the body isn't going to remain very healthy. I think 



MR. AHLGREN: it's commendable that he wanted to keep the tax rate down, 
(con'td.) 

As a tax payer, I couldn't help but feel that we were getting our money's 

worth, but also, as an editor I watched Atlanta and Dallas and some of 

these other places outstrip us. 

DR. CRAWFORD: When did you first become aware of the differential, Mr. Ahlgren? 
When did you notice that such places as Dallas and Atlanta were pulling 
ahead of Memphis? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, about 1949. About '48, '49, or '50. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Not throughout the war then? Not throughout the war period? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, it would be unfair to make comparisons then, because 
we were all under federal control. But afterwards Dallas and Atlanta 
went ahead and invested in the future, and Memphis was trying to stay 
on a pay-as-you-go basis. We have found, to our dismay, that a 
community, especially one that is dependant on the territory, has to 
spend money to get money. Now, the bonded debt today is $.65 out of 
every $2.25. For a bond service that's quite a bit, but it is because 
during those years when we didn't have to we could have borrowed and 
then retired. We had to borrow all of a sudden, and at a terrific rate. 
Now we're right up to our necks in bonded debt. 

DR. CRAWFORD: About what time did all of this borrowing become necessary? 

MR. AHLGREN: After Mr. Crump died. The city was falling apart. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think this was the weakness in his whole economic 
policy, or was it something more apparant as he grew older? 

MR. AHLGREN: I think that he did not move with the times. He should have 

known. He had one of the biggest, best mortgage businesses in the South. 
He knew what was happening to the demands for homes, streets, sewers, and 



MR. AHLGREN: lights and everything. But he wanted to do this on a pay-as- 
(con'td. ) 

you-go basis. The economy was exploding, and he didn't want to raise 

the tax rate. It caused me a lot of embarrassment to be a newspaper 

editor advocating increased taxes. The people didn't understand that. 

Of course, with the affection they had for Mr. Crump, I was in the 

doghouse. But still, I would have my say. It turned out in later years 

we had to borrow and we had to go to a higher rate than we had. We had 

to rebuild things that if we had gone along with the program of building 

and quit this foolishness of holding to the $1.10 tax rate or whatever 

it was, why, we would have been up with the other cities. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did he at any time consider employing consultants? Using 
profesionals to do long-range planning? 

MR. AHLGREN: You see, during the Payne administration Crump was out. I 
hesitate to say out of power. He still was able to swing his own 
trustees election, and so on, but he was not running the city government. 
Payne hired the Harlon Bartholomew Associates about 1922 or '23, and 
they put out a master plan for Memphis, which was to be up-dated through 
the years. There was very little attention paid to it after Crump got 
into office. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Why did he not take action? Was it the political sponsorship 
of it, or was it just contrary to his view? 

MR. AHLGREN: I think it was contrary to his view. He thought that he was 

the master planner, and he would ride the city from one end to the other. 
Walter Chandler, who was mayor and retired, wanted to get back into 
private practice so that he could make some money. He did, but when 
Frank Tobey — Mayor Frank Tobey— died, the people prevailed on him to 



MR. AHLGREN: come back Into office. At that time he said, "Memphis has 
(con'td. ) 

got to spend some money. All of these years we've been holding the line." 

Of course, everything cost about three times as much. You can see that 

the tax rate is now more than twice as much as it was, and we have a 

sales tax. But we are still behind. You read in the paper this morning 

where they've got to find new sources of revenue, because we've got to 

have a sewage treatment plan. This isn't something that is a frill. 

It's a necessity, or you're going to have a serious epidemic on your 

hands. The police department is under-manned. 

DR. CRAWFORD: It seems that all public services are now short. Did this 
start becoming apparent in the late forties or the fifties? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I think in the late forties. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Does it seem that Mr. Crump, in his economic views, looked 
more backward to tradition rather than forward to the future? 

MR. AHLGREN: As I said, there is no question about it. He didn't adjust 
with the times. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How do you explain, then, his support of industry? Especially 
in World War II? I believe that's in contrast with some of the older 
Southern economic ideas. 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, these industries were looking for sites, and he wanted 

to get his share of them. He did. That meant more voters, more payroll, 
more houses to mortgage. There was no mystery about that. 

DR. CRAWFORD: He was interested in the growth of Memphis, but he wanted it 
to be growth of the type of Memphis that he was accustomed to? 



MR. AHLGREN: Exactly. Don't misunderstand me. There is much to be said for 
tradition. I am a great admirer of it. I think that it's the glue 
that holds things together. I also believe that you can sit still or 
you can move so slowly that you don't get the benefits of a progressive 
community that wants to gamble a little bit on its tax situation. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that the more serious problem was the lack of tax 
revenues, or the failure to issue bonds? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, they didn't issue bonds, because they would have to pay 
the interest debt. They didn't want to increase the tax rate. That 
would be an automatic tax rate. He was just hoping that there would be 
such an expansion, and of course, there was always the matter of tax 
assessments. They could always up those. You see, Memphis has had a 
50 percent tax assessment for many years, whereas the rest of the state 
is coming in, some of them, at almost zero in some of those backward 
counties. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did the tax burden seem high to citizens of the city, say in 
the forties and the fifties? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, I don't think it did, but when they jumped them in the late 
and mid-fifties and had to do something, then the people started hollering. 
Since then, of course, they have gone up. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How widely was this realization that taxes would have to up 
felt? Did the people, in general, seem to understand? 

MR. AHLGREN: The people in general seemed to want to leave it to Mr. Crump. 
This is the tragedy of it. Mr. Crump could say, "Well, we've got to 
crank up and raise taxes." If he had said this he could have gotten away 



10 



MR. AHLGREN: with it. But he was always afraid of it. I'll give you an 
(con'td.) 

example. I don't think I've referred to this before. Governor Jim McCord 

saw the necessity of having a sales tax, and had exhausted all revenues 

from the liquor tax on up. They had run the liquor tax up as high as they 

could. They had run the licenses up as high as they could. They had 

run everything up that they could. The license was a real big source 

of revenue. We were way ahead on our gasoline tax and our cigarette 

tax, but they had reached the point of diminishing returns. We, at 

the Commercial Appeal , conducted a survey in Tennessee, and particularly 

West Tennessee, showing the deplorable conditions of Tennessee's public 

schools. Now, Memphis had taken pretty good care of its schools and 

still does. We've a fine educational system, but in the rest of 

Tennessee we had teachers without certificates running schools and this type 

of thing. We couldn't get enough teachers. We couldn't get enough money to 

repair the schools, and the Tennessee kids were in bad. • .Well, I sent 

Bob Talley out on the road for about five or six months, writing stories 

about it, taking pictures. The governor said, "Well, I guess I'll have 

to have a sales tax. I've exhausted every other way." I said, "Governor, 

the Commercial Appeal has historically been against the sales tax, as 

we don't have a compensating income tax that is far-reaching enough to 

hit those that should be hit. People that have stocks and bonds are hit, 

but there is no real income tax." I said that I thought that the sales 

tax should have a compensating income tax, too. This is so that the burden 

doesn't fall on one class of society. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did you feel that the sales tax alone was unfair? 



12 



MR. AHLGREN: Yes, but out of desperation we finally advocated it. 

Governor McCord came to town. He called me and said, "Frank, I'm going 
to talk with Mr. Crump. He is the most powerful political force in the 
state. I'm going to talk tohim about the sales tax. You have made 
quite a study of it. I wish you could come down with me." I said, "Well, 
Governor, I don't think that I want to be in on a political conference. 
We handle our own political observations. We want to be in a position 
where we can applaud or complain. I don't want to be in on any political 
conference. I could see the afternoon paper saying that the morning paper 
editor is in the political huddle." He says, "Well, we won't have it in 
Mr. Crump's office. We'll have it at the Claridge Hotel. Will you come 
then? I really need your help, and the children of Tennessee need your 
help." I said, "All right, all right, I'll be there." I think I have told 
you this, haven't I? 

DR. CRAWFORD: No, sir, I don't believe so. 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, Mr. Crump and Jim Pleasant, who, at that time had been 
a judge and had gone to war in the Navy and had come back was there. 
They put him in the City Attorney's office because they didn't want to 
remove the judge and replace him with Pleasant. Jim wanted to be mayor. 
Willie Gerber was there, and Joe Boyle. Crump had his henchmen. Will 
Fowler, the engineer, was there. They sat around while Crump asked the 
group to think on this, but he didn't want to back a sales tax. Of course, 
I had thought on it, and I had come to the conclusion that there was 
no other way to go. McCord said, "If you can think of any other source 
of revenue that wehaven't touched upon, you let me know. Unless you do 
come up with one, we are going to have to go for it." Well, Mr. Crump got 
Jim Pleasant to go and get a World Almanac. He read out of it where this 



12 



MR. AHLGREN: governor and that governor had advocated a sales tax and was 
(con'td. ) 

defeated. It was really for McCord's benefit. McCord said, '"I under- 
stand the risk I am taking, but the school children of Tennessee come 
first. Unless you can come up with something. . ." Mr. Crump couldn't, 
and McCord said, "I'm going to go for it." He then turned to me and he 
said, "Frank you heard that committment. Have you any comment?" 
I said, "No, I agree with you, and you agree with me, and we have 
historically opposed sales tax unless accompanied by an income tax, and 
under the state constitution you can't have an income tax in Tennessee." 
Then Willie Gerber spoke up, and he said, "Mr. Crump, don't forget that 
in this sales tax, Shelby County's got to have its share." They went 
into a huddle, and I said, "Now, you are getting into politics, gentlemen. 
I came down here at the invitation of Governor McCord." Mr. Crump said, 
"Oh, you've got to wait and have lunch with us." So I stayed and had 
lunch. I could hear snatches of conversation. Finally, they worked it 
out that the delegation from Shelby County would split down the middle. 
Some were for and some were against, so as not to endanger the take 
that Shelby County would get. As it was, we didn't get our portion of 
the share. But still, those country politicians would have had us if 
they had opposed it entirely. Frankly, it might have killed it. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, that followed the usual Tennessee tradition of Shelby 
County not getting its share of taxes in return, didn't it? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you feel that progress was made significantly over a period 
of time in equal treatment of Shelby County? 



13 



MR. AHLGREN: It has improved. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you feel that there was a resentment of the size of Shelby- 
County in state politics, or in Boss Crump's control? 

MR. AHLGREN: Both. It's always been "Big Shelby," which the rest of the 
state has resented. Then, of course, with the Crump delegation voting 
as a unit and throwing its weight around by delivering votes to a 
preposterous majority of 65,000 to 1,200 and things like that. This 
happened on election night. I was there and saw it. Frank Rice came 
up to our news room to find out how the vote was going on the liquor law 
repeal. He said, "What's the Shelby vote? and Rice would say, "Well, 
let's wait and see how many votes we need." They were just that brazen 
about it. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That was generally known throughout the state, wasn't it? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did that have anything to do with the present difficulty, or 
the later difficulty of West Tennesseans getting elected to state 
office? 

MR. AHLGREN: Sure. Of course, this is not just West Tennesseans, per s_e, 
as it is Shelby Countians. Although, it helped Edmund Orgill, I think, 
to run for governor. He had Kefauver's support. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did the first real challenge to Mr. Crump come in 1948? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and that was the first organized one. Browning and 

Kefauver joined up and they used the Crump Machine as their whipping boy. 
Even so, Kefauver did not get his majority. 



14 



DR. CRAWFORD: What elements of support did they get in the city? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, very little. He had the Press-Scimitar, Edmund Orgill, 
Lucius Burch, and I want to say a few "outs". They were "outs". A 
few who just didn't believe in a machine like Crump's; thepeople who 
had had their toes stepped on and some for just reasons of independence. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Were there many new voters? Had the city grown a great deal 
in that time? 

MR. AHLGREN: It had grown considerably through the influence of the 

war-workers, but not to the extent. • .Crump's candidate carried Shelby 
County, and he had an unknown. He would have beaten Kefauver if 
Senator Stewart hadn't gotten into the race and defied Crump. "You're 
not going to cast me off." he said to Crump. So they had a three-man 
race, and Kefauver came through in the middle. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you feel that the economic or the political legacy that 
Mr. Crump left Memphis has been more influential in holding the city 
the way it has been in preventing, say, catching up with Dallas and 
Atlanta? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, it fell apart when he died. Edmund Orgill was elected 
mayor. Henry Loeb. • .although Henry Loeb was a member of the park 
commission, and had to be appointed with Mr. Crump's approval, he was 
an independent. He was not much involved as a Crump man, because he 
and Bates used to feud, and Bert Bates was a real Crump follower. 
Well, Overton, who had been a Crump man, ran against Orgill with the 
support of what was left of the Crump organization, and Orgill beat him. 



■Hi 



15 



DR. CRAWFORD: Was the government as efficient with Mr. Crump gone? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, it wasn't, because the commission form of government is 
a log-rolling, five-headed thing. One says, "I'll vote for your 
appropriation if you'll vote for mine." Well, the planning wasn't 
good. That is why the Commercial Appeal got on this council-manager 
form of government. Orgill and some of his cronies believed in the 
city-manager form. We took the attitude that the city-manager form was 
designed for a small community, but at its best would be just a slide- 
rule form of government, and you have to make some allowance for 
representation by the people, there, into the administration. This is 
the strong mayor form of government, where the mayor is elected by the 
people, not selected by some group. You have a better chance that way. 
We fought, bled, and died for it, and finally got it over. But the 
thing that we really failed on was to get a consolidated metro- 
government that would have incorporated the city and county. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That's a bit ahead, I know, but what do you think the possibility 
is of Memphis' getting Metro? 

MR. AHLGREN: I think that if they ever get this mayor-council thing 

straightened out, where the people realize that they can live with that 
sort of thing, well, I think that first they are going to abolish the 
county commission. I don't know where it will head, but it will be a 
combined cityOcounty council with a metro director elected. This is 
the course it should take. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you suppose that the Nashville example will influence 
Memphis? 



16 



MR. AHLGREN: Nashville? That's a good example, or Dade County in Florida. 
That's one you hear a lot about. They have had very poor success. They 
lack success in Dade County, and they still have hangups there that are 
unbelievable. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Is that in the structure of the government? 

MR. AHLGREN: It is in the people that manage to get into the structure of the 
government. But the logical thing is to ha' e an over-all government 
in a community. With communications and the speed of travel, everybody 
is your next-door neighbor in a county, so why not have it all under one 
community government? There are a million inequities in the taxation still. 
I pay both city and county taxes. Outside the city, in the county, 
they pay one tax, and they get the benefits of the association of the city. 

DR. CRAWFORD: It's very logical, but do you think that it conflicts too 
much with all the tradition of independent localities in the county, 
and with the feeling of being afraid to undertake something that 
expensive an the part of the Memphis people'? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, that's what's holding up Whitehaven, or did hold it up, 
and may still, but they have an honest schedule now. I think that by 
the end of 1970, Whitehaven is going to be within the city limits. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, do you anticipate difficulty with other parts of the county? 

MR. AHLGREN: Why, sure. They moved out to get away from the city, but 
they're benefitting from the government that the city affords them. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Before we stop for today, Mr. Ahlgren, what do you think that 
the political inheritance of Mr. Crump has been? What effect do you 



Ill 



17 



DR. CRAWFORD: think this machine had, after his death, on the people and on the 
(con'td. ) 

government? What happened to the pieces of it? How well did it hold 

together? 
MR. AHLGREN: Well, it didn't hold together. Overton, who had been mayor 

under it, was defeated. Cliff Davis maintained his hold pretty well 

until the Negroes became organized. In the inner city here they beat 

Cliff. Nearly every district went republican. Oh, there were Crump 

supporters who were elected to office — Armour and Dwyer. On the other 

hand, Farris, Orgili, and Loeb were not Crump supporters. Particularly 

Farris and Orgili. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Then it did not really survive his death, did it? He had 

made no provision for succession, I am sure. 
MR. AHLGREN: No, none at all. His boys wanted none of it. He had not 

made any. Bobby wasn't equipped to. He was a playboy, and Ed just 

didn't want to. It wasn't his bag. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know if Mr. Crump was disappointed personally with 

that? Did he hope to leave politics, as well as business, to the family? 
MR. AHLGREN: I think he had hopes for Johnny. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I know that he had a very strong sense of family. 
MR. AHLGREN: John was a natural, and Bobby. . .in his younger days, you 

couldn't meet a more pleasant guy. He would have made a good campaigner, 

but he just kind of went astray, as we used to say. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, the city. . . 



18 



MR. AHLGREN: I think that Mr. Crump was motivated by the glamour of power. 
In his younger days he was a reform candidate with some fight. He 
liked the idea of organization and keeping his fences mended and the 
science of politics. He emerged on the national stage as one of the 
bosses. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did he ever feel that he was out of date? That things were 
passing him by? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, not Mr. Crump. He thought that some of these things were 
for the moment. I can remember when we were. . .Well, this was after 
Crump's death. We were raising hell to get some expressways for Memphis, 
and they kept stalling. They went and sent Will Fowler out to California 
when they were being built. There were some in Fort Worth and Dallas. 
Will wired, "Don't go overboard on these expressways." They were building 
them all over the country, and we were just sitting here on our hands. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Why did they send Will Fowler? 

MR. AHLGREN: He was the city engineer. I think that if the truth were known, 
Will Gerber was smart enough to realize that we needed them. 

DR. CRAWFORD: The irony is now, I suppose, that Interstate 240 is the 
William Fowler Expressway. 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and he was the guy that said, "Don't go overboard on 
them. 1 " Almost that they weren't here to stay, that they were an 
experiment. Of course, he had been out to Los Angeles and was bewildered 
by all of their interchanges. 



19 



DR. CRAWFORD: Well, the economic legacy was anecessity to tax heavily to 
catch up after the end of the Crump era? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and oneof his head men, Walter Chandler, was one of the 
administrators. Walter and I were on the Library Board. Walter was not 
a liberal, by any means. When things came up, like the problem of the 
city budget, well, he would just neglect the things and go on. They 
were trying to catch up over there. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Ahlgren, since you are still involved in the life of the 
city, may I ask you now what seems to you the best solution to deal with 
the public needs? That is the problem of financing police, education, 
streets, sanitation, and all of these other things. 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, obviously, I am a tax payer, and I don't run down the 
street, waving my arms, saying, "Tax me some more." But if we are 
going to have the protection, if we are going to have the sanitation, 
we've got to tax the people to get it. I think that prperty tax should 
be increased. I don't mean just a few cents. I mean a real increase. 
In Atlanta they don't even know, some of them, what they are paying over 
there, but it's around four dollars and a half. One of the owners of 
one of the biggest stores over there was asked by the committee that went 
over from Memphis, "What is your tax rate?" He said, "Gentlemen, I don't 
know, but it isn't enough." That was said in the presence of about seventy= 
five top Memphis business leaders. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that the Memphis business leaders are beginning 
to share that feeling? 

MR. AHLGREN: I don't know. I would hesitate to say. When you start 

talking taxes, you get a lot of double talk. I think that the sewer 



20 



MR. AHLGREN: tax is necessary. After all, they are going to protect the 
(con'td. ) 

people with this sewer treatment, and they ought to pay for it. Where 

do they think it's going to come from? You can't keep adding to the 

indebtedness. There is a ceiling, and we're already paying sixty-five 

cents interest out of every two dollars and a quarter. Now, that just 

doesn't make sense. That is of absolutely no worth to us at all. The 

money is not reinvested here. It just goes to the maw of the banking 

circles in Chicago, New York, and so on. And to some extent here, for 

re-financing businesses. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Why do you think there is such difficulty in increasing taxes 
here, to say, the Atlanta level? 

MR. AHLGREN: Because it is an ingrown fear of anybody belling the cat. 

There is a limitation. The only way it can be raised is by referendum. 
We've got to have enabling legislation first — a Shelby delegation—and 
then put it through to the people. You don't want to go over. ... 
I think it's about forty-five cents that you don't want to go over. I 
don't know. I haven't kept up with it that closely. But that has to be 
done. Instead of doing that they are taxing garbage removal and the 
sewer tax. They will have maybe a wheel tax. In fact, that fifteen 
dollars we are paying now is a wheel tax. 

DR. CRAWFORD: All piece-meal solutions? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, they are. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you suppose that Memphis, having been a cotton town, has 
caused the economic outlook to be more backward? 

MR. AHLGREN: More frugal. Not only that, but the cotton economy is fading. 



Hi 



21 



MR. AHLGREN: I was reading the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board Review 
(con'td. ) 

yesterday. Cotton is going to have a carry-over. Well, half of the 

textile market is now taken by synthetics. So they will have a carry- 
over of ten million bales, or something like that. It all depresses the 
market so that they are really not support prices now. It's just that 
the cotton business is all folding up. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, it is a declining industry, and it has been the 
traditional Memphis industry, hasn't it? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and now lumber is doing very well, They're in an 

upswing. But it isn't big enough. There are only about four really 
big lumber mills in Memphis. They don't employ enough. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What tax reforms, then, do you think would be needed for the 
future growth, say to take a long-range guess? 

MR. AHLGREN: A payroll tax, of course. We need a payroll tax. These 
bedroom communities are coming into Memphis, paying nothing for the 
streets, for safety, for anything, and they're going back to their 
own communities. We have to keep up everything. There should be a 
payroll tax. There should be an increase in property tax» There should 
be some increase in the ad valorem tax. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you consider the sales tax rate about high enough at 
present? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, of course, they always complain when we can't compete 
with Arkansas and Mississippi. Well, Arkansas and Mississippi have 
raised theirs. The thing is that ithits the people least able to pay. 
When you get it up around five cents, then think of those people who 
certainly have to exempt food items and everything else, then you are 



22 

MR. AHLGREN; going to get into it. 
(con'td. ) 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you see any other significant sources of revenue? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, that payroll tax would increase the revenue. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Sales tax, property? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, property tax. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you suppose, Mr. Ahlgren, that it is really bad that 

Memphis has not grown as Atlanta and Dallas have in the minds of the 
people of Memphis? Do you suppose that there is a desire that it 
really be a large city, a progressive city? 

MR. AHLGREN: It's hard to say. We have a great many new comers, and they 
are much less tradition-bound. There is a pride of community, and there 
is also the economics of being able to afford all of the things that a 
big city has. Look at Memphis State as an example. It's just bursting 
at the seams, and the Memphis people have to accommodate it some way or 
another. So, whether they like it or not, it's here, and we have to 
keep pace. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Then it's a problem of keeping up with growth that is 
already here? 

MR. AHLGREN: Indeed. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Thank you very much, Mr. Ahlgren. 



THIS IS MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE 
PROJECT INTERVIEWING MR. FRANK AHLGREN, FORMER EDITOR OF THE 
MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL . TODAY IS MAY 13, 1969, AND THE PLACE 
IS MR. AHLGREN 'S OFFICE IN THE 100 NORTH MAIN BUILDING. THIS IS 
TAPE THREE WITH DR. CHARLES W. CRAWFORD INTERVIEWING. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Mr Ahlgren, to this time we have gone over your early 

life to some degree, your first impressions of Memphis, and some of 
the political and economic changes you*ve seen in the city in which, 
I noticed, you have seen a good deal of progress and growth. Could 
you give me any idea of the reforms or changes that you have supported 
over the years as editor of the Commercial Appeal , aimed toward 
changing Memphis in certain directions? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, I think that we should say Memphis and the territory, 
because the Commercial Appeal is an area newspaper. There are two 
big things that stand out in my mind. One is that we, of course, were 
the instigators of the Program of Progress, which resulted in the 
present form of city government. I sometimes wonder after watching the 
Councilmen perform whether we were right in doing so, but I think that 
they've only been in office now for a year and almost six months. 
They had their first full application of budgets and new systems of 
finance and administration. For the first time they had a line-itemized 
budget that had to be justified, and that did away with a lot of log- 
rolling that prevailed under the commission form where one commissioner 
would say, "I need this much money." The other commissioner would say, 
"All right, I'll vote for you if you'll vote for mine." There is none 



MR. AHLGREN: of that now, or I haven't been able to detect any. In fact, if 
(cont'd. ) 

anything, the pendulum has swung the other way pretty hard and some areas 

of city government are suffering. I'm a mamber of the Library Board, and 

we have had to cut off services. Not only have we had to stop expansion 

with a city that is rapidly growing, but we've had to cut off some 

servicesc I don't think that is good for the educational and spiritual 

growth of this community. Nevertheless, if the others are doing it, 

we are going to do it so that we can get the city back on a strong 

financial basis. Then, of course, the big area thing for us was the 

Plant to Prosper program, which, in short, applied business methods to 

farming. The Memphis area was largely a one-crop, cotton-producing area, 

and as the fortunes of cotton rose the incomes rose; when they fell the 

incomes went down the drain. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Unfortunately, we've been in a falling period, haven't we? 
This is since you've been editor, in general? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, we kind of stabilized it by putting in well-rounded 

farming practices. In short, each farm was a participant, and we had 
a hundred thousand farm families at one time. 

INTERRUPTION 

DR. CRAWFORD: Now that the interruption is over and we are recording again, 
Mr. Ahlgren, would you go ahead with the Plant to Prosper Program, and 
then we'll be back to the P. 0. P. program later? 

MR. AHLGREN: For better farming we overcame the reluctance of many areas in. . • 



■li 



MR. AHLGREN: Maybe you're too young to remember, but they had an attitude 
(cont'd, ) 

"Oh, those book farmers. They can't tell me anything," They were talking 

about the F H, A, and the county agricultural agent and the home demonstra- 
tion agents You know, the family housing situation. But anyway, we 
overcame that distrust, or maybe even lethargy. Those people used to say, 
"Well, I haven't been farming as well as I know how, so why do I want 
this?" Nevertheless, the awards, the limelight, the banquets and so on 
gave a glamour that induced a lot of them to participate and it gave a 
great many more of them a hope that somebody was thinking about them and 
was trying to help them. The farmer was almost, you might say, mined 
out because of the constant growing of cotton without nitrogen to 
restore the soil. The agircultural agents and the home demonstration 
agents would go in there and tell them what various crops they needed to 
resotre the nitrogen, or if it was just a sub-marginal operation, to tell 
them frankly that there ought to be some other kind of farm activity. We 
gave great emphasis to the stock farming and the cattle growing. And 
soybeans, of course, came along c We encouraged that greatly so that we 
would have well-rounded farmers and no farm family was dependant on 
one source of income. Of course, gardening was a big thing. We had 
awards for the best gardens andthemost productive. When a family won, 
it could be assured that it wasn't going to starve and that it would have 
a balanced diet, which also always improved the attitudes and the health 
and their enthusiasm for a better balanced diet. Too, they were always 
going to have some kind of income, because if cotton was down they would 
have the soybeans or a little patch of garden and maybe a stand of timber. 



MR. AHLGREN: At any rate, it was a well-rounded production. Well, as I told 
(cont'd. ) 

you, for several years we had as many as 100,000 farm families entered. 

But this is a case of a project becoming too successful. Then in the last 

few years we've found, (before 1965 when we discontinued it) that we only 

had about 3,700 farm families entered in this whole area. They were all 

going along at top speed, and there wasn't any real need for the program. 

We also had been pushing industrial development on a small scale. That is, 

we envisioned the perfect rural, or small-town, community operation. That 

would be to have small industries with farms on the periphery of the 

community. Where the farmer, or his family, could work in the industry and 

still have his own little farm, enough for his garden, and maybe get a little 

cash crop. When there is a shut-down or slow-down or a lapse near business 

between seasons, so that he would have something to do. We now have a very 

vigorous program on that. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Approximately when did you start the Plant to Prosper program? 

MR. AHLGREN: 1934 was the first effort toreward a farmer who showed awareness 
of how to follow the advice of the consultations with the county agricul- 
tural agent or the home demonstration agent. Well, that was purely just 
to pick a good farmer with a committee from three states. These were 
Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. That went on for a couple of years 
with an increasing enrollment of people who wanted their farms to be looked 
at. But about 1939 — '38 or '39 — after a period of meetings we putout a book- 
a record book — which set forth specifically how many acres in cotton, how 
many in soybeans, how many cattle, how many so on. We had judges in each 
county and then in each state. They estimated what the progress had been 



MR. AHLGREN: in the farm and the family. We had points for home improvement, 
(cont'd. ) 

If they had added a new wing or put in inside plumbing. . . it was all 

relative. A man with considerable capital or resources was not given any 

advantage over a man with nothing. The man with nothing made a little 

profit, and he was in ratio to the man with more resources and lots of 

profit. It caught on, and in 1940 we had delegations from Australia and 

Spain to come over here to study what we were doing. At one time we had 

similar programs in twenty-seven other states. Michigan, for instance, 

struck me as kind of funny. They have a big celery industry there in 

central Michigan. They were dependant on the celery. So they came down 

to learn our diversified set-up and applied it to Michigan. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was this the first such program that you know of? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes, as well as I know, because it grew out of continuing 
things. We would add to the needs, and we had the blessings of the 
Department of Agriculture, of course. We never did have the President as 
a speaker, but we had two vice-presidents, and senators and we had the 
Secretary of the Department of Agriculture several times, and the Head of 
the Federal Reserve Board at our annual Plant to Prosper rallies. It 
was area participation, and the individual communities, in many cases, 
would have their own Plant to Propser contests in which the winners could 
enter the state contest. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How did you organize that, sir? I mean for the counties. 

MR. AHLGREN: Through the county agent and the home demonstration agent. Then, 
as you know, these agriculture programs came on and each county had a 
committee to decide what crops they were going to raise and so on, or what 



MR. AHLGREN: their quota would be. We leaned havily on them. They were 
(cont'd. ) 

a knowledgable people of the community. Then about '39. . . It had 

been pretty much a white project, but in '39 we organized what we called 

the Negro project, Live at Home. The white was Plant to Prosper, and 

the Negro was Live at Home. Of course, in later years, we merged the 

two programs. I remember that back in the '39 or '40's it wouldn't have 

been good to have tried and merge them then, because the closer you get 

to the farm and the soil the more pronounced the conflict became between 

white and black. 

DR. CRAWFORD: About when did you merge, then, sir? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, shortly after the war. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Were they both under the name Plant to Prosper? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, we merged them into Plant to Prosper. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What area did you include in this? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, that is another thing. We started out with a three-state 
area, and then we later enlarged it to include Missouri. In fact, we had 
several winners from Missouri in the sweepstakes prize. The cash prize 
wasn't much, maybe $500. But, of course, back in 1934, $500 was pretty 
good. Our newspaper people would look over these records and see where 
some young farm couple whohad been at it only two or three years were 
clearing $10,000 a year c That opened a lot of eyes. Now, we had a 
land owners 5 division for a while. That's the big operator. He was 
judged on how he permitted his tenants or his renters. • .what latitude 
he gave them and what assistance he gave them. Not in handing them some- 
thing, but in permitting them to work out something for themselves. 



MR. AHLGREN: That lasted only a little while. Incidentally, we met some 
(cont'd. ) 

resistance in certain areas. I was petitioned by a committee from 

Mississippi not to come down there and stir up things amongst their 
tenants. They didn't persuade us at all. We went right ahead. Later 
in that same area the county agent came up to present me with an award. 
They finally saw that we were not trouble-makers. We were not trying 
to do anything but to bring stability into their economy. We took a 
lot of peaks and valleys out of the economy and made things there stable. 
The bankers were intensely interested, because that's where the farmer 
went to get his money and where his mortgages were, and, of course, the 
merchants were co-operative. We had good cooperation. The Arkansas 
Power and Light Company, for instance, gave prizes. They also had a competi- 
tion of their own modeled after Plant to Prosper. Their winners were 
eligible to enter ours, not as winners, but as competitors. We didn't 
care. The more the merrier, as long as we controlled our own program. 
Now, we insisted that nobody, not even our own circulation department, 
knew who entered or their addresses. Only our Plant to Prosper bureau 
and the individual county agents knew, because we didn't want any adver- 
tising schemes or subsidising efforts in on anybody's part. We wouldn't 
even let our circulation department know, because you know those scoundrels, 
they would probably be right in there trying to get a subscription if 
we had a winner. We had a lot of winners, of course. We had county 
winners, and then we had state winners, and then we had the sweepstakes 
winners. 



DR. CRAWFORD: How did you make the selection? How did you set up the staff 
or committees to do that? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, in each state you had a number of agricultural operations, 
You would probably choose the Farmers' Home Administration head, or maybe 
the banker. Maybe if for the state competition, perhaps the state 
Commissioner of Agriculture would be one of the judges. This is more the 
state than the county break down. Of course, you have your county agent, 
your home demonstration agent, and maybe a merchant or a banker. They go 
out and visit these farms and look at the records. Then there was our 
Plant to Prosper director. It was a full-time operation with him. I 
mean, he was travelling all of the time. In the fall, before awards 
time, we had maybe three persons travelling all the time. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was your bureau chief a member of the newspaper staff? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, sure. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How much time did he devote to this? 

MR. AHLGREN: Full time, full time. And in the fall a lot of overtime. 

The photographers went along, and on many of these trips they would take 
pictures of what they had done in certain areas, which inspired the 
others to come on and join and enter. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was this financed entirely by the newspaper? 

MR. AHLGREN: Entirely, except for those prizes that later the Chamber of 
Commerce or a bank or a merchant would contribute. 

DR. CRAWFORD: This obviously covered a large area. When did you start 

noticing the changes? For example, changes from one crop to diversified 
farming? 



■II 



MR. AHLGREN: Well, it started almost immediately, because that was the way 
you entered. After the first two years, after '37, we all started 
getting a more scientific approach to this. We had a better balanced 
approach, but not just choosing a farmer because he's been outstanding. 
That's more like the Future Farmers of America's master farmer. Ours 
was a planned business method of farming. 

DR. CRAWFORD: When did you start noticing. . . 

MR. AHLGREN: It was almost. • .well, '38 or '40, and then the war came on. 
It was most apparant at our annual banquet for them. We used to have 
a rally at the auditorium and have the outstanding speaker — the Secretary 
of Agriculture or Chester Davis, who was then the Food Administrator, . • 
someone of similar stature. We had vice president Wallace here and one 
other vice president. Well, anyway, we had a number of Secretaries of 
Agriculture. Then we would go into the Claridge for lunch. This was 
just for the winners. We couldn't handle everybody that came in. That 
night we would have a banquet at the Peabody, which would fill the main 
ballroom and the Louis XVI room — about six-hundred-and-f ifty people. We 
noticed when we started out that some of these farm families would show 
up there with their babes in arms and the mother even nursing them, the 
father in overalls and she in her Mother Hubbard. As they prospered we 
watched change in dress. Of course, we watched our record books, too, 
and the amazing income leap. Then the war came on and this became 
increasingly important as more food and fibre had to be produced. They 
started prospering pretty good around 1941 or '42. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That was a good period for American agriculture. 



10 



MR. AHLGREN: Oh, it certainly was. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Did your judging become more difficult as you had more general 
prosperity in the '40' s? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes, and we had more crops that were introduced, too, cover 

crops and the legumes were introduced. The legumes would be more effec- 
tive in one area, and you would have to weigh the virtues of each in 
their own perspectives and locale. Well, there were the different cattle 
strains to come in, too. It got to be kind of complicated. You had to 
depend on these farm experts. Oh, we always did, for that matter. 
Maybe I am over-simplifying, but really, it started out as kind of a 
bulletin board for the agriculture agents and the home demonstration agents. 
We gave them credence. We kind of glamourized their activity and pointed 
out and showed pictures where they had brought about things in farming 
and so on. Out of that evolved this more, well, not scientific, but an 
inexact science. Still, it was utilizing the land to its best potential. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know of any other cases where the newspapers have done 
as much to develop the economy in the surrounding regions? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, I'm aware of the Charlotte Observer , which had some farm- 
encouraging program before we did. I think that maybe they just offered 
prizes. The Kansas City Star has always been interested in agriculture, 
and I think that they have backed the Future Farmers of America and the 
American Farmers, but I don't think that they actually were the motivating 
force and the one that provided the manpower and so on. Then, as I told you, 
this was copied in twenty-seven states by one newspaper or another,, Not 
only the newspapers, but sometimes it was the Chamber of Commerce that 



11 



MR. AHLGREN: would project it. 
(cont'd. ) 

DR. CRAWFORD: Whose idea was this, and what people were most prominent in 
developing it? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, it was an outgrowth of a number. I would say that 

perhaps when James Hammond was published of the Commercial Appeal , he 
was looking for something dramatic to identify the Commercial Appeal with. 
We were in the depression in those days — 1934 — and during the depression 
we had to fight all of the N R. A.'s and everything else. At that time 
I believe that I was city editor. He was the first one to assign Harry 
Martin to go into the farming area and meet with the various county agents 
and see who had the star farmers of this area. It was not my idea 
originally, but I think that it was Parkson Teague, an editorial writer, 
who said, "Why don't you do something about encouraging farming? You 
might even give some kind of an award and publicize what the good farmers 
are doing. This is an agricultural region and if it prospers, then Memphis 
prospers." Oh, let me see, the executive editor turned to me. I was city 
editor, and he said, "Can you assign somebody to go out and see what we 
can do to encourage these people, and maybe we'll offer some prizes." 
Then the Chamber of Commerce caught on to it, and they said, "We'll supple- 
ment your award with a Chamber of Commerce award," which they did for 
many years. Well, they did right up to the last. When I cam back here 
in '36, Gene Rutland and I worked on a program to make it more stable. . . 
to insert four factors in it — four standards. You couldn't just go out 
and say, "Oh, that's a good-looking farm, that's a good-looking home," 
and give them an award. We sat dovm to work out a formula. It took us 



12 



MR. AHLGREN: until about 1938, when we first started our books. By that time 
(cont'd. ) 

Walter "Bull" Durham, was the director. We sat down with the four. . • 

(by that time we had brought in Missouri) agricultural commissioners and 
with the F. H. A., (the Farmers' Home Administration) and the federal 
agencies. We worked out a program of standards. They were pretty general, 
but there was a provision that if it was a cotton-growing area you didn't 
want to take rich cotton land and turn it into growing peanuts or something; 
so you had to make certain standards for certain circumstances. Then we 
included home-making, additions to the farm, participation in the community 
activities, civic leadership. Well, that came later, but it evolved. 
I don't think that you can give any one person, unless it would be 
Parkson Teague who suggested that we do something about the farm area. 
Well, you see, I left here in early '34, when the thing was set up or 
announced, but nobody really knew what was going on. In '36, when I got 
back here, I found that it was pretty much like it had started. They 
would just go out and find and invite some farm families in and show them. 
They were designated by their county agircultural agent, and they had a 
banquet at the Peabody. Then out of that grew a kind of a forum and 
widely-known speakers came, and it was carried on networks all through the 
South here for years on hook-ups from Florida to Texas. They put it on 
during the Farm and Home Hour. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, this was a public service project of a very large magni- 
tude, which does seem unusual for a newspaper to sponsor. Why did the 
Commercial Appeal give this such support? 



13 



MR. AHLGREN: Because we originated it, and we gave it such support because 
we wanted to take the peaks and valleys out of the economy around here. 
Farm people were dependant almost exclusively on cotton, except those who 
had lumber stands. But even then reforestation wasn't a science of general 
application here. It was just a matter of trying to stop this feast and 
famine stuff and to have a steady income for these people. As they 
prospered, Memphis prospered; hence the very (I guess you would call it 
"corny") title, Plant to Prosper. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, it seems to me very unusual in that you did so much in 
such a concrete way to correct this. I have had the belief that the 
role of a newspaper was more to write editorials, I suppose, and take 
less action. Do you consider this a rather unique thing? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, no. Most newspapers have some promotion campaign, but 
this was most unusual in that it attracted wide-spread attention. 
Readers' Digest had two articles about it; one at the early stage and 
one at the later. It was considered for a Pulitzer Prize, but there 
wasn't enough heavy drama to it to really put it over. It was on the news 
reels, and we had quite a big exposure. I made a talk at the Cleveland 
Chamber of Commerce up there at an agricultural committee called The 
Farmers* Club. Senator Bricker was the other speaker. We had quite a 
turnout. I was very much impressed. This was Clevelend, Ohio. Anyway, 
Bricker was mayor of Cleveland, and then he was governor and then United 
States Senator. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was it Bricker? 



14 



MR. AHLGREN: Yes, it was Bricker. Yes, John Bricker. Well, he was governor 
at the time, and he introduced me. There were quite a few people 
interested in what we did. They came from Australia, Spain, commissions 
from their governments. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I begin to see why you consider this one of the two important 
things that you've done, I suppose. Why did you close the program? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, because we got down to twenty-seven to thirty-seven 

hundred farm families from a peak of 100,000 families, and you spread that 
over four states. By 1965, they had achieved awareness of what they 
should do, and they just weren't interested in entering the contest in 
sufficient numbers. There wasn't any way, really, that they could go 
unless they did something dramatic. More Negro tenants could have 
entered, but they were displaced by machinery or by their own movements 
as the young Negroes moved north and west and east and left the incompetent 
ones behind. They didn't want to farm or couldn't farm, and you try to 
work with them and they didn't know what it was all about. Plus the fact 
that mechanized farming had come in and there wasn't any place for any 
farm enterprises. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I believe that the purpose of this program was carried out as 

you travelled through all of the states that were a part of this — Arkansas, 

Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri, You see a great deal of diversified 

farming now. You see soybeans, stock raising, timber, and so forth. 

I think that except in mainly a few large operations there is very little 

reliance on one crop. Perhaps the program had accomplished a purpose by 

this. 



15 



MR. AHLGREN: It had. That was the judgement of the agirculture people. 

They said, "We'll still cooperate with you, but now it's not worth the 
effort that you have to make each year." 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you feel that the declining percentage of rural population 
made it less important? 

MR. AHLGREN: Of course. It was not so much the tenants. The area had 

improved communication, improved transportation; and, as I say, these 
industrial complexes would compliment farming. That was our next move. 
So we just went into that. Now, in our industrial awards, we weighed 
heavily those industries that are so situated to encourage continuous 
farm operation, so in that sense it still continued but under another 
name. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was it well-supported by merchants in the area? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes! Especially in the area here. It didn't cost them 
anything here, of course- Well, it didn't cost them anything in those 
small communities, except what they wanted to put up and consented to. 
It was the virtue of it. The bankers were the biggest force of enthusiasm 
because they had so many mortgaged farms, and unless these people improved 
them and paid off their mortgages, why. • .everything was better. 

DR. CRAWFORD: It seems to me that this Plant to Prosper project may have had 
in effect, been comparable in some way to that of the Tennessee Valley 
Authority on the economic development of the region. 

MR. AHLGREN: I think that that is a very good comparison, although, we 
didn't in effect, have access to flood control measures. TVA always 
worked closely with us, especially in the matter of recommending fertilizer 



16 



MR, AHLGREN: and things like that. You see, they are in the fertilizer 
(cont'd. ) 

business. Oh, yes, and TVA as a cultural director frequently supplied 

one of the judges, even though its main area was not here. But they did 
have a great interest in West Tennessee and some of North Mississippi. 
But at no time was the government the over-riding factor. We didn't 
depend on the government to handle it. Some of these farm agents that 
were being paid by the government were preaching our doctrine that self- 
help is the best help. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You were able to work through them, weren't you? 

MR. AHLGREN: Oh, yes, without them we would have been nothing. Sure, we 
had to. 

DR, CRAWFORD: How did your sweepstakes committee make its choice? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, they would probably take three chairmen or the four 

chairmen of the committees and they would just meet and say that this 
is the one that I have and this is the one that I have and justmake 
up their minds as to the winner. Of course, this is where our bureau 
director came in, and he was the chairman just to prevent any domination 
of any state. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you feel that this needed to be replaced by something to 
encourage industrial development? 

MR. AHLGREN: Sure, and this was my idea under the small industrie s program, 
because I could see that the shift in farm population, the improved 
communications, resulted in the displacement of farm families. Most of 
our farm areas were very well-taken care of, but the small industries 
that we needed for our economy were not always full-time operations. 



17 



MR. AHLGREN: They had their peaks and valley s and their seasons and off- 
(cont'd.) 

seasons. So we encouraged them in this periphery farming idea so that 

a man or woman could work in the factory and they could have, also, a 

little farming operation, if it's no more than just a garden that would 

supply them with pretty much their food the year 'round. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Why do you think so much change has occurred in the area (I 
know that it's national, as well, though) in the change from rural to 
urban living? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, this goes back to facts that I mentioned — communication, 
transportation, and mechanized farming — improved farming methods. It's 
going on all the time. You have improved planning, improved weed 
irradication and irrigation, and improved harvesting and every possible 
field. The country used to require one farmer for every eight or nine 
persons. Now it's one farmer for every sixteen or fifteen persons. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that this ratio will continue to change? 

MR. AHLGREN: I think so, yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you see anything being done to encourage industry in the 
same way that your program has encouraged agriculture? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, this program that I just outlined to you. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that it is working as effectively as the 
agricultural program? 

MR. AHLGREN: No, in the first place it didn't have the demand of the despaired 
ones. Now, these small industries that are coming in here are coming in 
for distribution and climate, but especially for the help that they can 
find here, the labor forces. Some of them are escaping from the hard 



MR. AHLGREN: unionization that exists in the North and Northeast. But not 
(cont'd. ) 

as many as in New York in the old days. These union people and all of 

the exemptions that they had. . .talking about the union organizers and 

the exemptions that they had and the protection that they had has moved 

along. So there you are. 

DR. CRAWFORD: That's part of this change from countryside to city? 

MR. AHLGREN: Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, this is one of the more remarkable program of development, 
comparable, I think, in some ways with TVA. I don't know of anything 
else, really, that compares with it. Of course, we had government 
operations of all sorts to help agriculture in the '30's and continuing. 
But I know of nothing privately developed or sponsored to compare with 
this. 

MR. AHLGREN: Of course, TVA played a big part, directly and indirectly, 
because it came into West Tennessee, which is principally our area. 
Then it came into North Mississippi. Then here is Arkansas right across 
the river, and the Arkansas Power and Light had to stire its stumps 
and so did the Mississippi Power and Light. So that, in effect, you 
got a great many more electrical outlets than you would if TVA hadn't 
been in the area. It was the same with the telephone company. Then 
R. E. A. came in, and that was a threat, too, to the power companies. 
Instead of saying, "Wait until you get enough customers before we put 
in the electrical equipment," they went on and strung it tokeep the co- 
ops from getting in there. I am not a great enthusiast of co-ops as they 
are constituted now. I'm in favor of groups of farmers getting together 



19 



MR. AHLGREN: so that they could buy seed at a discount andhelping each other 
(cont'd. ) 

that way. But when the co-ops got into business and started owning oil 

stations and tax-free barge operations and things like that, that is 

carrying it too far. But that's an aside. Nevertheless, the co-ops did 

have their affect on stimulating this thing. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What changes have you noticed in the newspaper's area in the 
form of erosion control and so forth? Has this program been in effect? 

MR. AHLGREN: Well, that was another thing, this soil erosion program of the 
government's. They would come in and help tremendously. The people 
availed themselves of it that needed it. I give them credit for whatever 
progress they made, if they were doing it themselves. 

DR. CRAWFORD: This was a factor, then, in the Plant to Prosper program? 

MR. AHLGREN: In some areas, yes. It was a great deal of it. They would 
plant kudzu grass and things like that — kudzu vines — to protect the 
land, and the earth and bring it back into production years later. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You've noticed a tremendous change, I suppose, in North 
Mississippi since you've been here? 

MR. AHLGREN: I was married in 1932, and we drove to New Orleans where we took 
a boat to Havana for our honeymoon. We drove back, and the land erosion 
haunted me. I had been in North Mississippi before while driving down to 
places. They had gravel roads. It was always an adventure to go anywhere 
in North Mississippi because of their roads. It was the same in Arkansas, 
but they didn't have the erosion as much as you have in Mississippi. To 
look at it now and think back in those days, why, it's just another world. 
Those great gashes of red clay along the roadsides were just depressing. 



20 



MR, AHLGREN: Now with the soil conservation projects they have built them 
(cont'd. ) 

back. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Well, it seems to me that this program did a good deal in 

saving the natural resources, the soil and so forth. 
MR. AHLGREN: Sure. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Even the sources as well, eliminating or reducing the poverty — 

rural poverty. 
MR. AHLGREN: Well, and giving them well-balanced diets, putting them in 

communication with other areas and that sort of thing, fostering civic 

projects. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I see why you consider this one of the major reforms, or one 

of the major projects of the times. 



HECKMAN 

BINDERY INC. 

SEPT 88 



i 



N. MANCHESTER, 
INDIANA 46962